Convention Prep: Comprehensive Artscow Review

In the past year, I've become very concerned with the scalability of Nattosoup Studio.  While sales were on the rise, the majority of sales were commissions completed while at the convention, which was taking a toll on my health.  These sort of sales have a very low final profit ceiling- I can only sell as much as I can produce, and travelling to conventions ate up most of the money I made. It didn't help that very few of these commissions ever resulted in any followup at all, as I saw no uptick in Tumblr, Twitter, or blog views following conventions.  I was really discouraged for awhile and sincerely debated just cancelling the rest of my shows for that year until I could solve the problem.

I knew that the only key to making more money was to start offering products that could be produced at a lower cost.  8.5"x11" and 11"x17" prints never really sold for me, so while those have a HUGE profit margin, they weren't really an option.  Months of browsing Artist Alley Network International introduced me to the company Artscow, and sparked my interest in their services.  Artscow is a Hong Kong based company that basically acts as a fulfillments service- a step between ordering things at a huge markup from companies like Shutterfly and having your own China-based merchandise supplier.  It's great for smaller fish like myself, who can't justify ordering large amounts of merchandise, but would like to add some variety to our tables for an affordable price.

At Anime Weekend Atlanta this year, I finally got my opportunity to check out some Artscow products in the wild.  Kristen Bailey (@digitoonie on Twitter) had some fantastic large Sailor Moon pencil bags, and I was really impressed with the print quality.  I decided to sign up for their newsletter, and wait for a sale to strike.

Sales are KEY to ordering from Artscow- you want a sale that takes off a significant portion of the asking price in addition to offering free shipping.  If you don't wait for a sale, you'll end up paying far more then you need to for items.  Sales happen on Artscow fairly regularly, although the items on sale are often random, so it helps to have a few designs handy that could work for a variety of items.  I've shared some of my promo codes at the end of the post- they're a great way to get started using Artscow, and they help me out in return!

Artscow Basics

The Site Itself

Step 1:  Make an Account

I often use guest accounts with sites I'm unfamiliar with but I HIGHLY recommend you go ahead and make an Artscow account.  This is hugely useful in a few ways:
  • You can sign up for the newsletter that lets you know about deals and coupons, which is the key to using Artscow.
  • You can accrue points for recommending people
  • You can save your finished designs, for easy reordering
  • You can save uploaded images in albums, so you can work on the go to make new designs.

After you make an account I recommend you either wait until you get your first newsletter with a deal you want to take advantage of, or you have a deal from my list at the bottom of my post that you want to take advantage of.  Artscow newsletters provide a link to items eligible for their deals, which takes the ambiguity out of utilizing their sales.  Once you have something in mind, it's time to start designing!

The Silverlight Designer

 For the purposes of this tutorial, I'm just going to go ahead and use an image that has been prepared to have a front and a back.  Keep in mind that this image isn't the correct size for something as large as a tote bag, nor was it designed to be used for this tote bag.  I just wanted to pick something I don't already have prepared, so I could go through the process step by step.

Once you have an item in mind, it's pretty easy to use Artscow's Silverlight application to customize it.  You don't HAVE to use Silverlight, but it's the most flexible means of making sure your image fits your item.  Silverlight does not work in Opera for me, so I have to use IE- you may find you have the same issue.

After selecting Silverlight Designer, it pulls up this applet:

Right now I have a completely blank canvas- Front, Back, and the Strap.  I'm going to make a new folder for this design, and upload my images to that folder.

I have a design for the front, and a design for the back ready to go. 

All you have to do is drag your design over! 

And use the fairly decent resizing and rotating tools to align your image.  This image was most definitely not designed for a tote back, so the alignment issues are on me, not on Artscow in this instance.

Once you've finished designing your item, you select Preview and Add to Cart (or save, ya know, whatever), and name your project.

And Artscow loads a fairly accurate preview!  If you don't like what you see, go back in and tweak unil it works for you.

Below is the coinpurse that the witch was designed for.  You can see it works a lot better than the tote bag.

First Order: Another Year of Watercolor Books

The first order I placed with Artscow wasn't for bags- it was for books!  I'd wanted to do a sequel to A Year of Watercolor, my 2013-2014 collection of mini watercolors, but I found color garage printing to be pricy and had a somewhat difficult time moving books at the price I had to charge to cover costs.  Artscow has a 2 year sale on their hardbound 24 page photo quality photo books, so I decided to give it a shot.

Setting up my book in Silverlight was incredibly easy and very similar to the process I covered above.  Additional pages were 3 cents a page, and as I wasn't sure if that meant total or per book, I kept my pagecount low.  I didn't have a code for free shipping, so I ended up paying a hefty $40 (which is standard for Artscow which is why I INSIST you wait on free shipping coupons) and waited a couple weeks for my books to arrive.

My books arrived in an Airmail cardboard box (which I had to sign for- you often have to sign for Artscow packages as they're coming from out of the country), and my books were very well wrapped and protected.  Each book was also individually shrinkwrapped, so I unwrapped one to check out Artscow's printing quality.

I have several photos below of the books themselves and the unpacking process so you can get a feel for my first Artscow Order

Usagi Drawstring Bags

I ordered some Usagi drawstring mini bags and some cyclops zipper bags about the same time I ordered my Another Year of Watercolor books, but they arrived a couple weeks later (just in time for MTAC) and the Usagi bags were hilariously misprinted.  I'm STILL trying to get Artscow to replace them, but the cyclops bags are fantastic.

I was SO careful lining up my images in the Silverlight designer.  It seems like these bags were just misaligned when they were sewn.  Too bad I can't sell them.

As poorly as the Usagi bags were aligned, the cyclops bags were fantastic.  Their photo material is fantastic- silky smooth, almost like satin, and colors print vibrantly.  When you order cosmetic bags, you get to select a zipper color, which is a really nice touch.

The bags even have a little zippered compartment on the inside!  The interior fabric isn't nearly as nice, but overall, I was tickled pink with the Artscow cosmetic bags.

You can order Another Year of Watercolor and my Cyclops bags from my Nattoshop.  Remember, your support helps make review posts like this possible and worthwhile for me.

Second Order: Usagi Coinpurses

Before I even got my first order, I'd placed my second (not very smart, I know).  Artscow had a deal that ALSO included free shipping, so I figured why not, and ordered some coin purses.  I've mentioned in the past that I'm honestly not comfortable with selling mass produced fanart merchandise at my table, so I kept my order number to 4, figuring it'd make a cute limited edition.

The coinpurses arrived shortly AFTER MTAC, which is a shame as I think they would've sold well.

Unlike the cosmeic bags, the coinpurses don't have an interior pocket, but they do have a reinforced seam and you can select your choice of color for the zipper.

My Usagi Coinpurses are available in the Nattoshop!

Third Order: 10 for $20 Coupon- Eyemasks, Notepads, and Witch Coinpurses

When I'd placed this order, I was pretty familiar with how Artscow worked and what to expect from them.  I'd gotten a coupon for 10 items for $20 and eyemasks were part of the deal.  I knew what I had to do.

Another 10 for $20 deal was memopads which I stupidly thought would be sticky pads (they're not!)  I ordered these for an ALA giveaway- they're advertising my watercolor comic, 7" Kara, and include the ISBN.

The print quality is pretty good, and it's an allover print design.  The only issue is that the ink so heavy on Kara's head that it's a bit of a resist for writing.  These are also a little expensive for just giving away, but I'm really hoping to make tabling a ALA worth my money.

Bonus Goofy Eyemask Fun!

You can order my Kawaiimasks from my shop!  They're available in Genki (the blue eyes) or Shoujo (the purple eyes).

General Advice for Using Artscow

  • Sign up for their newsletter.
  • Wait for GOOD sales- a combination of discount AND free shipping, as their shipping is very expensive.
  • Be prepared to wait a long time- order several months in advance to make sure you can catch a deal and to give the packages time to come from Hong Kong.
  • The return process hasn't been an easy one for me, so if something arrives wrong, make sure you take COPIOUS photos


Recently Artscow sent me some referral coupons that I'd like to share with you guys.  As someone who uses Artscow, and is familiar with their prices and how the site works, I honestly think these are a good deal.  If you're interested in trying Artscow out, using these coupons has two benefits- it saves you money and it earns me money, which is great if you're a fan of the blog or generally consume my work.

1. Any 10 selected items here for $20 
Coupon code: ZCRAYSALEMCCAN, Expires on 07-12-2015) 
You can also use the code: ZCRAYSALERHR3M
 This is similar to the coupon I used for many of my coinpurses, Kawaiimasks, and my notepads, and I recommend it!

2. $0.99 Custom Allover Print Tank Top with Free Shipping. 
Coupon code: Z099TANKTOP5UNBQ, Expires on 07-12-2015 
I'm really excited about trying this one out for myself, as I'd like some Nattosoup uniforms for conventions! 
3. $0.99 Personalized Cosmetic Bag with Free Shipping. 
Coupon code: ZSBY2SQ24, Expires on 07-12-2015

More Codes You Might Like:

These are only good for single items, but it's a great way to do prototypes on the cheap without a large commitment.

Mousepad for $0.99 (additional $3.99 afterwards): 
Coupon Code: Z099MOUSEPADTXF6Z

Watch for $3.99 (additional $6.99 afterwards):
Coupon Code: Z399WATCHESNUU5Q

Leggings for $2.99 (additional $9.99 afterwards): 

Coupon code: Z099LEGGINGSB8BV7


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